Designed to Last: Resilience in Nature and Brands

By Doug Studer, CEO and Biomimicry 3.8 Specialist, Deskey Branding

Welcome to the second in a series of blog posts looking at how nature thrives in times of crisis and how brands can do the same by emulating some of nature’s strategies in their business practices.

In our last post, we said that survival in both nature and business comes down to three Rs: resilience, responsiveness and regeneration. I illustrated how these characteristics in nature protect my “spirit animal,” the California redwood, and compared them with business strategies that are protecting Nike. Big tree, big brand.

In this post, I’d like to focus on just one of the three Rs: resilience—in nature, the capacity of a system to absorb disturbances and retain its basic function, structure and feedback systems. We’ll look again at the redwood for answers but also at another example from nature because, with millions of species on Earth, we know that there is always more than one solution.

The secret is in the scale
Coast redwoods are a marvel of resilience. They are among the oldest trees on Earth, living an average of 500-600—but up to 2,000—years. And they are the tallest, reaching heights of 300 feet, that of a 30-story building. Yet their roots are shallow, only 10 feet or so deep. What keeps the towering trees from falling over in high winds and earthquakes? A horizontal root system that spreads out 50-60 feet in all directions and intertwines with other redwood roots to form a strong network that holds the grove together.

Scale can help brands
Big Tech has more in common with the redwood tree than just its tendency to thrive on the western coast of the United States. Brands like Google and Microsoft are demonstrating their resilience while many other categories are struggling.

In forests, the coast redwood’s tannin-rich bark can grow to 12 inches thick, protecting it from fires and pests like termites that devastate other groves. Similarly, before stay-at-home orders were issued, work-collaboration software Microsoft Teams had a strong base of users made up of thousands of organizations that use the software as their digital teamworking hub. This established base of users acts as Microsoft Teams’ “bark,” supporting 37% growth as a result of the sudden and global shift to working from home.

Like the redwood that finds strength in the interlocked roots of the grove, Google’s Cloud computing platform is using its vast network to enhance connections and communications among hospitals across the country. Google Cloud is partnering with one of the nation’s leading healthcare providers to create the COVID-19 National Response Portal. This open data platform promotes data-sharing about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is spreading to help hospitals and communities prepare and respond. The ability to compile and access anonymous healthcare data from across the country is an example of how a network is more effective and stronger than the sum of its parts.

Small scale can be resilient, too
Another resilient organism equipped to survive in a seemingly inhospitable environment is the tiny wood frog. These creatures can tolerate their blood and tissues freezing in cold weather. Wood frogs accumulate chemicals in their tissues in preparation for winter, and their liver produces large quantities of glucose in response to the extreme cold. Both of these actions limit the amount of ice that can form in the wood frog’s cells, allowing it to survive many freeze and thaw events throughout a single winter.

If one source of the mighty redwood tree’s resilience is its size, by comparison, the wood frog, weighing in at less than a third of an ounce, may seem vulnerable to nature’s whims. Likewise, it seems logical that only the “Googles” of the world would have the infrastructure and resources to be resilient in times of crisis. But if the tiny wood frog can teach us anything, it’s that size can be overcome by maximizing the efficiencies of internal systems.

Smaller, private tech companies like Markforged and Formlabs, which specialize in 3D printing, are demonstrating resilience by adapting their internal resources to the current crisis. Both brands are now making personal protective equipment, such as face shields, as well as nasal swabs for use in COVID-19 testing. Like the wood frog, whose control over its internal systems allows it to survive in cold temperatures, Markforged and Formlabs control both the development and manufacturing of their products themselves, internally. This maximizes their efficiencies, leaving them positioned to address the thousand-fold increase in demand for their supplies.

As we said, at Deskey BluEarth, we look to nature for inspiration to solve life’s problems. As you think about how to respond to the pandemic, the first thing to remember from nature is that there is no single right or universal way to do it. Instead, start with the inherent resiliencies in your organization. If you are large, how can you use your scale and networks to help people thrive? If you’re small as a tree frog, how can you focus on your specialized internal systems to help you weather the storms?

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